Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The books of the dead, and the subject librarian

One regular job that raises its head in the life of the subject librarian is the question of "legacy" collections. Surprisingly often I am sent huge lists of the books of the recently deceased, sometimes with an offer to go to houses to look through somebody's lifetime's collection. With a subject like Welsh, these houses full of books are not necessarily local, and sometimes instead I have to do the work remotely, attempting to judge from a list what might be useful and trying to work out how to get it from a distance (even from another country).

This can be an enormously time-consuming job. If it is merely a question of checking a list against what is in stock in our library and what is not, I can get someone else to do the checking - but it isn't usually as simple as that. We may already have a couple of copies of a book which is long out of print, but if it is in high demand a couple is not enough: a mechanical search rejecting duplicates won't pick up on such a gem. You need a fairly good knowledge of the subject to spot what may be potentially useful. The tendency for arbitrary stock selection criteria relating to the age of an item won't help with a humanities subject.

There are also practical difficulties. I do have a car (a lot of my subject librarian colleagues do not drive), but  I don't have parking rights at work, so actually unloading and carting boxes of books in an appropriate place isn't without problems. These collections are not always offered for nothing, so there is the question of finding money for them, and families often have no idea what to ask for. As we already have a broad and comprehensive collection in my subject area, I am more likely to want to fill gaps rather than take a whole library off someone's hands, but if the family is looking to sell the books, they would usually, understandably, rather take an offer for the whole lot than have people cherry-picking.

If you don't actually see the books, you can be in for some unwelcome surprises. People will tell you that they are in good condition, but that's a relative term. Yellowing Reader's Digest compends and the cheap paperbacks of yesteryear may have had sentimental value for someone, but they are not going to enhance a university's bookstock (this is a fairly regular issue in public libraries too - no doubt those libraries which have been decoupled from professional supervision and stock selection will be a dumping ground for much of this sort of thing).  In Wales, we have the added occasional hazard of chapels closing down, many of them having had vestries with their own libraries, once valuable community resources but often more recently sadly neglected. Items which might once have been welcome may have deteriorated beyond the point at which it may be reasonable to try to repair them. Condition is very much in the eye of the beholder. If you can't see what you're getting, be prepared for other unpleasantnesses: one colleague once arranged (expensive) transport for boxes of books from someone's house, and found herself having to dispose of, mainly, old clothes and other jumble which came with them.

Sometimes there are moments of sheer delight, as on the occasion when a bereaved son discovered among his father's possessions approximately fifty 19th century books which had been removed from our library years ago. They were all part of the original personal collection of Enoch Salisbury, and were all to do with the history of Glamorgan. This was embarrassing for the son, but we were pleased to have them back!

So many important Welsh books are out of print and unobtainable that the only place they can be (unless they have all been pulped) is in the houses of the elderly, so I am always hopeful of finding gold when a collection becomes available. On the whole, though, the amount of effort I put in to checking long lists against stock and making practical arrangements is disproportionate to any benefit ultimately gained by the library.

The whole question of book collections in private houses is fraught with sensitive issues. Bereaved people don't want to hear that you don't want their loved one's prized possessions. Sometimes they are under pressure of time to clear a house. Perhaps the dead relative had always expressed a wish that his/her books should go to their own old university library. It's a minefield! It's also one I'm personally very aware of, as I come from a family with a serious book habit myself. My father was a son of the manse, as was his own father, and he himself was an academic, so that's three generations of book accumulation, and I used to buy a lot of books too (I've slowed down now, due to lack of money and space). My husband grew up in a large rectory, so he also was exposed to the book habit from early on, and he is less disciplined than I am in trying not to persist. The clergy have a lot to answer for in the book sphere! The Methodist manse at one time came equipped with furniture and household goods, rather like army married quarters, so pictures and books were the only personal items on view in the home, and in my grandparents' case they went all over the country from Shetland to Portland. We have not kept everything which belonged to the now deceased book collectors in the family, but we still have an awful lot and the sentimental value they have for us won't be the same for those who come after us. I am not naive enough to think that any library will be interested in much of it (with the exception of certain subjects); no doubt we are also guilty of creating a problem for future generations.

With the advent of the e-reader, perhaps the book problem will be one day be worse than I have been thinking. I'm not sure I can cope with the thought of all these books being of no value to anyone, nor can I imagine living in a bookless house. We are still a good way off the "everything is on the Internet" scenario so much beloved of politicians and journalists, but the secondhand book market may certainly suffer. If it does, there will be a tidal wave of books emerging from the houses of the dead one day, and some hard decisions to make, both personally and for librarians.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Generally speaking, there's no better way to wind up a librarian than all the "sssssshhhh" jokes and comments about librarians. It's a stale cliché beloved of sit-com writers and journalists.

At my school we had a librarian who did think that silence in the library was important, so much so that she used to shriek and shout this belief as loudly as possible at five-minute intervals. She was an extreme example: but far from being "shushers", lots of people who work in libraries are themselves the target of complaints about noise. At the busy public reference library in London where I spent six years staff were regularly "shushed" by the public, never the other way round.  And the phone! We were trained to ignore the phone if it rang while we were dealing with enquiries (we often had queues at our enquiry desk). John Major's Citizen's Charter suddenly turned this upside down - local government workers were commanded to answer the phone within so many rings, or seconds (interestingly, the party which believes in rolling back the state is actually quite keen on dictating daily detail to public sector workers - I digress). I am sure that Mr. Major's big idea was aimed at people working in offices, or that there was an underlying assumption that you would not be trying to answer the phone AND talk to people in person at the same time, but it didn't work very well for us. It did not come naturally to me to break off in the middle of an enquiry from someone physically present in order to let someone on the phone effectively jump the queue, and I hate it when anyone does this to me if I am at any kind of enquiry point or till.

On the other hand, how irritating the sound of an unanswered phone can be! S4C's drama Teulu, set partly in a doctors' surgery, perfectly captures the tense atmosphere created by a constantly ringing phone in the background. This noise (and we had two phones) used to enrage those who wanted silence in the library. I'm not sure what the answer to this one is, other than to recommend that those seeking silence should not choose to sit close to the enquiry desk - and to wish that staffing levels were more generous, so that you would not have frazzled people trying to do too many things at once and unable to keep up with the level of demand.

Another problem in the public library is that some really don't want to share the facilities. The internet seems to be full of people complaining about the very presence of children in libraries, for instance. It's a difficult balance to get right. Back in that reference library (a child-free zone, mainly), we did a (highly unscientific) user survey one year, and exactly equal numbers of the old and young complained about the other group's presence. Children and young people tend to get the blame for noise, but in fact older people can be quite noisy themselves ("old people coming in here to gossip with their friends when we are trying to study" was how one student put it). A public library is meant to be for everyone (and yes, children are people too, and the days of being seen and not heard belong to a bygone age); sharing usually involves compromise. My personal bugbear is mobile phone conversations in the library. You can turn your phone off occasionally, the world doesn't come to an end! Put it on silent and use texting instead if you really can't cope with being cut off from your lifeline for a bit! People using computers in the public library are particularly prone to this for some reason. "Hello! I'm in the library!" We know, we are also in the library!

In the university library we are a bit more spoiled. We try to manage noise by having different zones for different activities. There's the busy area around the desk, where noise is acceptable and expected, with the ringing phone and the enquiries. We also have an area in the basement, the e-lounge, where students can relax or use computers and where things not encouraged elsewhere in the library are allowed. We have other areas which are designated as silent study areas. The rarified atmosphere of a proper reading room (which is probably what a lot of people would still really like in their public libraries) is closest to being achieved in our Special Collections room, although we are cheating a bit in that it does not have an actual enquiry desk or phone, the source of most library noise, in its public area.

I have never ever shushed anybody in a library (a rude and abrupt way of communicating with people!). I have occasionally asked them politely to keep the noise down, and to desist from things like climbing on chairs and making general announcements to fellow readers, and I don't tend to raise my own voice unless something particularly unacceptable is going on: BUT I cannot do my job if I have to whisper at everyone or use semaphore. I can't whisper on the phone because the person at the other end won't be able to understand me, and I would very much prefer people with questions to ask them audibly and not whisper them at me at point-blank range. Talking to people, both in person and on the phone, is a big, important part of a librarian's job.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The case of the missing butler: Richard Ferdinand Glanville, 1820-1886

I dabble in genealogy in my spare time: mostly, so far, my own family. Last year, however, I spent several months on the trail of someone else's family, and I uncovered a (to me) shocking, but it seems not unusual, story.

My elderly cousin had found a crumpled old copy of his father's birth certificate, and realised that he knew nothing about his father's antecedents: his father's father had died very young, and the mother changed the child's name to that of her second husband. As an adult he reverted to his birth name, but other than the name nothing was known. As it wasn't my own family I didn't go down the path of buying certificates and verifying things, but went along to my local public library and made use of the databases such as and Findmypast which can be searched there free using the CyMAL-funded subscription. I found a lot of information which my cousin's family can build on if they wish, in particular the story of their direct ancestor, Richard Glanville. Finding the website of Jay Glanville who has made a one-name study of the Glanvilles was a help, too (he is prepared to give Richard the benefit of the doubt a little more than I am, but essentially we have come to the same conclusions about his life).

Richard’s history is a complicated one, but thanks to modern technology it is a now little easier to trace someone’s progress than it must have been at the time! Even so it took quite a while to work out.

Richard was one of the younger children of John Glanville, carpenter, of Ewelme, Oxon., and his wife Mary. The middle name Ferdinand is unusual (and a help in identifying him, although he seems to have dropped it in mid-life). It occurs again later in the family.

Richard Ferdinand Glanville was born on 31st Jan. 1820 and baptised at Ewelme on 16th. April. I have not found him on the 1841 census, but he was in London by the mid 1840s. In 1844 and 1845 he seems to have been very busy indeed: on 16th October 1844 a child, also Richard Glanville, "illegitimate", was born in the workhouse at St. George's, Southwark. The mother was Margaret Nott and the father Richard Glanville, porter, of Wellclose Square. The baby was baptised on 8th November. Given the subsequent history, I am inclined to think that the father is Richard from Ewelme. Wellclose Square is in the East End, near Cable Street. This could be someone else: no other records place Richard Ferdinand there (but we do know that he made his way a bit further north to Hackney). I include it as a possibility.

A few months later, on 12th February 1845, a child, Wilfred, was born to Elizabeth Pier; on 11th May, the banns of marriage between Richard Ferdinand Glanville, servant, “of this parish”, and Elizabeth Pier of the parish of Hackney St. John are recorded at St. Mary’s, Lambeth, Surrey. On 27th July, the following baptism took place at Hackney St. John: Baptismal names: Wilfred Glanville; Parents: Richard Ferdinand and Elizabeth; Surname: Peir. Richard's address is given as Margaret Street, occupation servant; the child was "reported born 12th Feb. 1845". (This baptism is of course indexed as Peir). One week later, the marriage took place on 4th August 1845 at St. Mary’s Lambeth, Surrey, between Richard Ferdinand Glanville, servant, Mount Street, “of this parish”, and Elizabeth Pier, of Hackney St. John. Richard's father is named as John Glanville, carpenter. I am not convinced that Richard actually lived in the parish at all. I am not sure whether Margaret Street is the one in Hackney or the one in the West End, and the only Mount Street I am aware of is the one in Mayfair.

Richard certainly did work in the West End as well as his appearances further south and east. In fact, three weeks after the wedding, on 26th August 1845 at St. Marylebone workhouse, another child called Richard Glanville was born. His mother was Lydia Fagg, father Richard Glanville, butler (no address given). This child was baptised on 15th September. I am sure that this is the same Richard the butler fathering another child:  his occupation is subsequently given as “butler” on a number of occasions and he is the only one found so far in the one-name study of the Glanvilles.

Possibly, therefore, Richard was the father of three children by three different women born over a ten-month period, two of them in the workhouse, and even if the first was not his, he had at least two women expecting his children at the same time.

Richard and Elizabeth went on to have two more children, the last in 1850, but by the time of the 1851 census Richard was not at home. Elizabeth is found alone, "married", in Arthur Street, Hackney, with her three small children; Richard appears in his place of employment instead:

6 Ulster Terrace, Marylebone (The household of Catherine Parkman):
Richard Glanville, m, unm, 31, house servant. Place of birth: Ewelme, Oxon.

When I found this I originally thought that perhaps he had simply told his employer that he was unmarried because it might be politic to keep the existence of a wife and three children in the East End to oneself (in order to get a living-in job). However, on the 1851 census there is also:
Richard Glanville, m., widower, 31, carpenter. Place of birth: Oxford (at 4, Tarling Street, Tower Hamlets).

This could be a different person, but I'm inclined to think not. The Marylebone census was filled in by the householder, his employer: she may have listed all the servants whether or not they were under her roof on census night. He would not be the only person to have been listed twice (I've found others). The Tower Hamlets address is not far from Hackney, his father and brother were carpenters, and no other Richard from Oxfordshire aged 31 has turned up so far. He may even, as a carpenter's son, have started out working as one. "Widower" is obviously not accurate, but then neither is "unmarried". It seems that Richard had already left home.

His next appearance in the records is in 1854:
16th August 1854, St. Paul’s, Lisson Grove
Baptism of Richard Edward Glanville; Parents, Richard Ferdinand Glanville, servant, of 40, Milton Street, and Susan Louis, “born July 27th 1854”.

This one is indexed as Glanville, and the entry is a bit ambiguous. When I first found it (the first extra-marital infant I came across), I thought that Richard had made a bigamous marriage, but I cannot trace a marriage with Susan or find her afterwards. There is a death in the indexes for Richard Edward Glanville, Marylebone, in 1855, which is probably this child.

While searching for him and Susan, there was one more set of surprises:
1871 census
29, Boad Street, Manchester
Richard Glanville           head     mar.     51        hotel waiter       b. Ewelme, Oxfordshire
Jane Glanville                wife      mar.     48        tayloress employing 4 hands     b. Essex, Epping
George Glanville           son       unm.     14        pupil teacher     b. Liverpool
Kate Glanville               dau       unm.     12        school girl         b. Manchester
James Glanville  son       unm      6          school boy        b. Manchester
I am quite sure that this is him – the age and place of birth are spot on, and “hotel waiter” is not really such a big step from being a butler or house servant. I had however found a later entry first, which is a bit more ambiguous:

1881: census, at the same address in Manchester:
Richard Glanville           head     mar.     56        tailor employing 5 women b. Oxford
Jane Glanville                wife      mar.     50        tailoress    b. Epping
George Glanville           son       unm.     24        clerk          b. Liverpool
Kate Glanville               dau       unm      21        tailoress     b. Manchester
James Glanville son       unm.     16        clerk                     b. Manchester.
The ages of the adults are inconsistent, and the occupation of tailor is odd, but I think that it is her occupation, not his. (I did spend some time pursuing another Richard Glanville who was a tailor and who lived in London in 1851, but he is fully accounted for - he came from Devon and returned there). For me the information on the 1871 census clinches it despite the anomalies. Extraordinarily, one of the children has the same name as one of the children from the family with his wife!

I have not found any marriage between Richard and Jane, although they clearly lived as man and wife. I have found baptisms for two of the children (one has the occupation "butler" for the father); I've also identified who Jane was originally (I think). So it seems that after sowing many wild oats in London Richard finally settled down in Manchester and stayed with one woman for around thirty years! Although there are still many mysteries we do know where Richard ended up: he is buried in the Church of England section of the Southern Cemetery, Manchester. He died in December 1886 and was buried on 3rd January 1887. 

Poor Elizabeth, left behind taking in washing in the East End, seems to have had a miserable time. She appears on the censuses alone with her children, did not (presumably could not easily) remarry but describes herself as a widow after 20 years. She probably never knew where Richard had gone or whether he was still alive. Sadly she went blind in the 1870s, and had to go into the Hackney Union Workhouse, where she remained for the rest of her long life, dying there in 1911 aged nearly 90. What a life! Abandoned by a philanderer, struggling in poverty and then going blind and spending nearly 40 years in the workhouse! The only mitigating fact in her life was that she did not spend as much time in childbirth as a wife who had not been left would have done, and she succeeded in bringing up all her children and not losing any to the diseases which were rife in the overcrowded conditions in that part of London.

Desertion, bigamy and cohabitation were surprisingly common among the working classes in the 19th century. Richard could have been prosecuted and imprisoned for deserting Elizabeth and the children (the authorities' main concern was that an abandoned family might become a charge on the parish). He could also have been prosecuted had he committed bigamy, although it seems that he did not actually go through a marriage ceremony with Jane. Divorce was not an option for most people. By the time Elizabeth was old, one son was dead, one had emigrated, and one is so far unaccounted for but, like his father, absent from home. She had, in the end, outlived both her missing husband and his second "wife".

I have been unable to trace what happened to the two babies born in the workhouse.

Victorian values? No thanks!